Cashless Retail Sales Index: April 2021

With life in Australia currently very close to pre-pandemic “normal”, the boom in household goods and department stores has largely subsided.

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Highlights

  • Our data mapping points to the ABS retail sales measure posting respectable growth April– up 2.0% m/m. The ABS printed 1.3% m/m growth in March.
  • While our forecast for April remains positive, we are increasingly sceptical as to whether retail growth will continue, reflecting more “normal” pre-pandemic conditions returning. Last year, sectors like household goods and department stores boomed as consumers stayed home, but our data mapping shows these sectors recording negative monthly growth in April.
  • It remains to be seen to what extent weaker 2020 performers – clothing and footwear and hospitality – step in to support retail spending growth in the second half of 2021.
  • The April NAB Monthly Business Survey reported very strong results overall, with retail confidence lifting after a weak print in March.

NAB Chief Economist, Alan Oster commented

With life in Australia currently very close to pre-pandemic “normal”, the boom in household goods (i.e. furniture, consumer electronics, building supplies) and department stores has largely subsided. Now that sectors dependent on staying home have fallen away, the key question is to what extent sectors dependent on going out, such as clothing and footwear and hospitality, will replace them. So far, these sectors have improved but it is not clear this will be sustained.

Overall, the Australian economy continues to outperform expectations, particularly with respect to employment. However, wage growth is yet to see a sustained uptick from 2020’s record lows. While we hear anecdotes of labour shortages, this is yet to show up in the data. Both our forecasts and those of Commonwealth Treasury in last week’s budget point to continued weak wage growth. Ultimately, it will be difficult to sustain conditions in the retail sector without a wages lift.

For more information, please see the NAB Cashless Retail Sales Index April 2021